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Research Questions

  1. What is meant by school and classroom climate?
  2. How can school and classroom climate be measured?
  3. What considerations should users of climate measures keep in mind?
  4. What type of validity and reliability evidence should be gathered to support use of climate measures?

Research confirms the widespread belief that student learning is influenced by features of the school and classroom environments in which instruction takes place. These qualities of the learning environment, often referred to as school and classroom climate, are associated with higher student achievement, improved attendance and graduation rates, and lower rates of suspension. To support strategies that are focused on creating positive, safe, and inclusive school and classroom climate, educators need to be able to define the specific features of the learning environment on which to focus. However, educators often lack access to information that could aid in determining those features. This report is intended to serve as a resource for educators and education policymakers who are interested in monitoring school and classroom climate. Making sense of the wide variety of available measures and of validity and reliability evidence—which is often incomplete or lacking altogether—can be a daunting task, and the authors encourage educators to draw on such resources as technical assistance centers or local universities that can provide measurement expertise as needed. In addition to providing broad guidance regarding assessment of climate and social and emotional learning, the report features a list of resources and databases that focus explicitly on climate measures.

Key Findings

Measures of school and classroom climate provide complementary data on the learning environment

  • School climate is complex, encompassing many different aspects of the overall school environment, such as relationships, safety, and the quality of instruction.
  • Classroom climate refers to the specific instructional environments cultivated by individual teachers.

Climate is closely related to two other concepts that are often used to describe the character of a learning environment: culture and context

  • Culture refers to the rituals, norms, values, beliefs, and assumptions of a school or classroom.
  • Context refers both to the compositional characteristics of a school or a classroom and to the characteristics of the neighborhood or surrounding area.

School and classroom climate is most commonly assessed using one of two methods: surveys or structured observations

  • By far, the most prevalent method relies on perceptions that are captured on questionnaires distributed to students, staff, parents, and other stakeholders.
  • Structured observations typically involve trained raters who observe instruction and record their observations on a standardized rubric that facilitates credible comparisons across schools or classrooms.
  • Both these methods have advantages and drawbacks.

Recommendations

The following considerations should be kept in mind:

  • Climate is complex and multidimensional.
  • For survey-based climate measures, the appropriate unit of analysis is not always clear.
  • Many instruments are not developed using best practices in instrument design.
  • Results from climate surveys can be influenced by the people or organizations to which the items refer.
  • Culture can influence climate perceptions.
  • Overall or aggregate measures of climate can conceal important subgroup differences.
  • Respondents' anonymity on climate surveys creates some opportunities but limits others.
  • It is difficult to ensure representativeness of climate measurement.
  • Although some school districts use survey-based climate data for high-stakes decisionmaking, validity evidence supporting such uses is scarce.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by the Funders Collaborative for Innovative Measurement and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.